Day 5: Roswell, Carlsbad Caverns, and Ft. Davis
This past spring, Anthony and I took a road trip through part of the American southwest. Specifically, we visited New Mexico and west Texas. We had a fantastic time but day 5 may have been our favorite but our most exhausting day.
If you haven’t read about our previous days, I encourage you to go back and see all the fun places we have visited up to this point.
- Day 1: Corinth, Amarillo, Adrian, and Santa Fe
- Day 2: Santa Fe and Los Alamos
- Day 3: Santa Fe, Albuquerque, and Alamogordo
- Day 4: Alamogordo and Roswell
We woke up and headed out of Rowell pretty early. The Rodeway Inn actually had a really nice, warm, continental breakfast that we fueled up on. They had eggs, sausage, cereals, yogurt, toast, and coffee. This was a pretty nice hotel for the price. If you are ever in Roswell for the night, this I would recommend staying here.
We had a long way to drive this day, but we had to stop at Carlsbad Caverns. This was one of my favorite vacation stops when I was a kid. I was astounded by the cave. Anthony had never been so we had to stop.
You have two options for exploring the cave. You can take the natural entrance which included walking from the mouth of the cave down to the Big Room. The other option is to take the elevator down to the Big Room and start your journey there.
I highly recommend taking the natural entrance, however, there are two things you really need to keep in mind: (1) your time availability and (2) your physical condition. This trek will add about an hour to your stop so if you don’t have the time to spare, just take the elevator. The second thing you really need to honestly consider is your physical ability. The Big Room is an easy 1.25 mile stroll but the natural entrance is a pretty steep ramp for an additional 1.25 miles. Anthony and I are not athletes but we aren’t in terrible shape. While we easily made the walk down, our legs and knees were aching by the time we got down to the Big Room.
You may also want to think about a tour. There are several park ranger guided tours that go into parts of the cave that most visitors never see. There is also a self-guided tour. You pay a rental fee for a special device. As you walk along the trail there are signs with numbers on them. If you enter the number, the speaker will tell you about this particular feature of the cave. I did this as a kid and loved it. We decided not to do it this time but I kind of regret that. It would have probably added another 30 mins to our walk but I think it would have been worth it. Maybe next time.
There are a few other things to consider when taking a trip down into the caverns.
- There are no restrooms between the natural entrance and the Big Room. If you take the natural entrance, make sure you use the restroom before leaving the visitor’s center. There is another toilet before you the get to the amphitheater so you might want to use both, just to make sure.
- You are not allowed to bring food into the cave so make sure you eat before going down. There is a small shop in the Big Room with granola bars and water but that is about it.
- The time of year can make a big difference in the crowd. As a kid, we went in the summer and it was pretty crowded. This trip we went in late April and enjoyed experiencing the cave in places with no people and no sound.
- The cave is much cooler than the desert above. The cave stays a pretty consistent 56º. You may want to wear jeans/pants and bring a light jacket.
- Strollers are not allowed so if you have small children, you may want to bring some other form of carrying them. Walking canes are allowed but only if they are medically necessary.
- This is a lot of walking so make sure you wear comfortable walking shoes. However, if you have been in any other cave in the last 10 yrs and wore the same shoes or carried the same camera, they will need to use a special disinfectant on them due to a fungus that is particularly deadly for the type of bats that call Carlsbad Caverns their home.
- The cave is dimly lit so photography can be difficult. Bring a tripod if you would like to take pics with a longer exposure than normal. Flash is allowed but it is a good idea to keep other visitors in mind since flash in such a dim environment can be annoying.
- There is no cell service in the cave. Make sure you turn your phone off or put it in airplane mode otherwise it will run your battery down searching for a signal
- Walking back out of the cave is only for those very fit. The elevator is the way most people exit the cave. However, from time-to-time, they are working on the elevator and the only way out is to climb back out through the natural entrance. Make sure you ask if the elevator is functioning before purchasing tickets for the day.
One interesting part of the cave is that even though we were deep in the earth (754 ft), we were still at a higher elevation than we are in Denton County. The Big Room of Carlsbad Caverns is at 3,652 ft above sea level and the elevation of Corinth, TX is 607 ft.
There are also other fun things to do at the park. They have a Night Sky events, bat viewing events, hiking, and backcountry camping.
This is a fascinating park and highly recommend it if you are ever in the area.
After our journey through the cave, we were ready for a lunch. There is a cafe in the visitor’s center but it isn’t very impressive. There also is very little near the park. We decided to have a picnic lunch overlooking the beautiful scenery. We enjoyed the view while eating our deli meat and cheese rollups, chips, hummus, and grapes.
Back in Texas
Since we had another 180 miles to drive we headed out on the road again. Soon we were crossing the border back into Texas and back into the central time zone.
We took Hwy 54 which took us right past the Guadalupe Mountains. Yes, surprising to most, Texas does have mountains. Guadalupe Peak is the highest peak in Texas at 8,751 ft. One day we will come back out to this area and explore this national park.
Soon, we picked up Hwy 90. At this point, you do go through some very long stretches of nothing. No businesses, no cell service, and very few cars. There are also several signs that warn of flooding during their monsoon season. So, if you travel this way, make sure you have plenty of gas, plenty of water, and check the weather before heading out.
As we got further into Texas, we spotted another common Texas site: road construction. For those of you in the Denton area, you are very familiar with the orange and white barrels.
After waiting for quite a while in construction, we finally made it to Prada Marfa. This is an art exhibit on the side of the road. They put up a Prada “store front” just off the road in the middle of the desert. It isn’t actually in Marfa but it is pretty close. Prada actually donated a couple of pairs of shoes and handbags to put in the windows as if it were an actual store. By the way, this isn’t really a store, it is just an exhibit. It is a fun place to jump out for photos and pretending you are a famous movie star with plenty of money to spend on shoes and handbags.
Not much further up the road, we turned onto Ranch Road 505. This is truly a ranch road including driving over several cattle guards. However, this is a gorgeous drive as you go through pastures with the Davis Mountains looming before you. Watch out for wildlife. We were driving through here around 5 pm and came across several deer. This road eventually joins TX-166. This is part of the Davis Mountain Scenic Loop and it is beautiful.
The Stone Village Tourist Camp
We arrived at our motel, The Stone Village Tourist Camp, and checked in. This is a very unique and adorable motel. I cannot recommend it enough. They have regular rooms just like a typical hotel/motel which is what we stayed in. However, they also have what they call “camp rooms.” These are rooms that are essentially closed in patios. They are just screened in areas with twin beds and a curtain to pull for privacy. They are made of stone so they are much cooler than sleeping in a tent but it still gives you the sensation of camping.
Fort Davis Drug Store and Hotel
We decided to head to dinner at the Fort Davis Drug Store and Hotel. This is an adorable cafe and small hotel. It looks very much like an old-fashioned soda shop and a small boutique. This was clearly a favorite hang-out for the locals. Anthony had a burger and I had a hotdog. They were great. We also shared some peach cobbler with Blue Bell vanilla ice cream. As we ate, we fantasized about owning the place. We were quickly falling in love with Fort Davis.
Anthony had a burger and I had a hotdog. They were great. We also shared some cherry cobbler with Blue Bell vanilla ice cream. As we ate, we fantasized about owning the place. We were quickly falling in love with Fort Davis.
McDonald Observatory and Star Party
After dinner, we drove up to the McDonald Observatory. We had purchased tickets to the Star Party that night. As we were waiting for the clouds to blow away and the sun to set, we looked around their small museum, bought some souvenirs from the gift shop, and had a couple of cups of coffee from the StarDate Cafe.
Then it was dark and the party started. The first half was an awesome lecture and explanation of astronomy and the constellations. I cannot express how enjoyable and educational this was. For the first time, I could actually see the constellations. You could hear gasps, oos, and ahs all around in the dark as the other visitors could suddenly make out the shapes that astronomers of the past used as a map and to tell the seasons. We even saw a couple of satellites, actual man-made satellites, pass over-head. Fascinating seems to be an understatement.
After the educational lecture, we were then released to use the telescopes. The observatory has several permanently placed but also amateur and professional astronomers bring their own telescopes for us to look through. We spent the next few hours talking to these educated men and women and looking at the stars.
They also had a movie playing inside but we did not take advantage of it this time. We do plan on coming back so we decided we would check it out next time.
Around midnight, we decided we were ready to head back to the motel.
This Star Party was pretty much what we built this trip around. It was definitely the climax of the trip. We could not have been more impressed. If you are ever in the Fort Davis area, you have to put this at the top of your list of things to do.